The Pacific Climate Change Conference got underway in Wellington this week, as the remnants of Cyclone Gita arrived to lash the west coast of New Zealand. Several small island nations suffered severe damage from the storm and, as we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, recovery is expected to take months, if not years.
Both Samoa and American Samoa received tremendous amounts of rain, 14 inches in Apia, and both suffered from wind and floods. Yesterday, a 747 chartered by the San Diego Red Cross arrived in American Samoa with tents, cots, batteries, propane tanks and other supplies.
Farmers warned to expect a shortage of fruit and vegetables. One of them, Sosene Leau, told RNZ Pacific, that bananas and ulu (breadfruit) were worst hit.
“Most of the breadfruit trees are either damaged or they are fallen over,” he said, “and it will take two to three years to grow back.”
Cyclone Gita mostly missed Niue, but strengthened to Category Five as it tracked toward Tonga. That translates to sustained winds of 144 miles an hour. Tongatapu and ‘Eua got the worst of it. 1400 homes are reported damaged or destroyed. In Nuku’alofa, the historic parliament building was completely destroyed. According to Accuweather, the Tonga Met Office was also damaged, forcing forecasters to take shelter.
Gita is the fourth Category 5 cyclone to hit the Pacific since 2015. Recovery is still underway in Fiji from Winston in 2016 and in Vanuatu from Cyclone Pam a year before that. Gita is the first major storm of this year’s cyclone season, but as the Climate Change Conference will hear, those seasons now start earlier, last longer and bring more intense storms.